Call it out and they will come.
This was the painful lesson learned yesterday, as YouTube moderators were forced to disable comments on the House Judiciary Committee’s livestreamed congressional hearing on online hate.
The hearing itself had turned into an object lesson in online hate.
Before the session had even begun, hateful comments began pouring in, including white nationalist memes, anti-Semitic slurs, misogynist asides, pro-Trump rhetoric, complaints about “white genocide,” and other rhetoric.
“These platforms are utilized as conduits to spread vitriolic hate messages into every home and country,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler [D-NY] said as vile comments populated the screen next to his face in the online viewer. “Efforts by media companies to counter this surge have fallen short, and social network platforms continue to be used as ready avenues to spread dangerous white nationalist speech.”
According to Buzzfeed, PBS NewsHour’s YouTube channel also had their comments disabled, as did, wait for it… Red Ice TV, a white nationalist YouTube channel based out of Sweden. “PBS’s comment section was disabled first, then the official stream’s comment section, and then finally Red Ice’s,” reports Ryan Broderick, who watched the mess unfold so we didn’t have to.
It was, in a word, awful, particularly for the tech companies who were on the hot seat.
Drama aside, the session also fell short.
Wired called the hearing a “four-hour squabble over who’s most hated, and who’s doing the hating, in America,” a fight to the bottom to rank anti-blackness, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant sentiment, and place blame alternately on media companies and political parties.
“As all this unfolded, the tech industry representatives mostly sat back, fielding overly simple questions about whether Facebook allows people to report hate or how YouTube spots videos that violate its policies,” they report.
One conservative commentator named Candace Owens used her time to dismiss complaints against tech executives and express skepticism about the rise of white supremacism. “They blame Facebook. They blame Google. They blame Twitter. Really, they blame the birth of social media, which has disrupted their monopoly on minds,” she said of Democrats. “They called this hearing because they believe if it wasn’t for social media, voices like mine would never exist.”
But one testimonial particularly stands out.
In 2015, Mohammad Abu-Salha’s two daughters and son-in-law were shot and killed in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina home, a horrific murder driven by an anti-Muslim ecosystem. “There’s no question in our mind this tragedy was born of bigotry and hate,” Abu-Salha said.
The North Carolina-based psychiatrist went on to share details that brought two committee members visibly to tears.
“Bullets macerated Yusor’s and Razan’s brains. Deah took many bullets to his arms and chest before he fell down to the ground. After that, the murderer saw that he was still breathing and shot him again in the mouth,” he said. “I must be one of a few physicians, if not the only one, who read his own children’s murder autopsy report. The details are seared into my memory.”
He said he also saw a tweet praising the murderer, Craig Hicks, who is still awaiting trial. But the rhetoric comes from elected officials, too. “Americans take cues from their public officials, and those officials have created an environment filled with dangerous, hateful rhetoric that dehumanizes Muslim Americans and fuels violence towards my community,” he said.
But Muslims are not alone in facing the violence. I’ll give Dr. Abu-Salha the last word:
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